It’s MAGEC: New type of scoliosis surgery sparks a smile

scoliosis patient after surgery
When the phone rang at 9 p.m. on March 6, 2014, one of the last voices Susan expected to hear was John Emans, MD.

Emans, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Spinal Surgery Division, had called to share a bit of good news. The Food and Drug Administration had approved MAGEC (MAGnetic Expansion Control system) rods for certain patients with scoliosis. Her son David, who has severe scoliosis from Marfan syndrome, was an ideal candidate.

“We were elated,” says the Mont Vernon, N.H., mom. The rods are a game changer for 7-year-old David and some other children with certain types of severe scoliosis.

Fewer surgeries for kids with scoliosis

Although many curves are successfully managed with braces or casts, children with congenital, neuromuscular or idiopathic scoliosis who develop spine deformity early in growth typically undergo multiple surgeries during childhood. This keeps the spine aligned while still allowing it to grow. An orthopedic surgeon implants rods to control the spine and lengthens the rods every six months, usually as an outpatient procedure. Children may undergo as many as 20 spinal surgeries during growth before a definitive spinal fusion can be done.

MAGEC can change that. The adjustable growing rod system uses magnetic technology and a remote control to lengthen the rods without surgery.

Instead of regular operations to lengthen the rods, David will visit Emans every three to six months, and the surgeon will use a magnetic device to lengthen the rods as needed. “It takes just a few minutes, and there’s no cutting, pain, anesthesia or surgical dressing,” says Emans about the surgical innovation. Return to school is immediate. As with conventional growing rods or Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib (VEPTR) devices, David will still need occasional surgeries to replace outgrown rods or if the rods break.

For David, who was the second patient to have MAGEC surgery at Boston Children’s, the rods have straightened his spine, giving him an extra 2 inches of height, and repositioned his lungs, so he can breathe more easily. And he no longer needs to wear the back brace that he had needed since age 2 to support his curved spine.

“We’re planning a bonfire to burn his back brace,” shares Susan. David is looking forward to the fire and a very long wait until his next back surgery.

scoliosis brace burning

Without MAGEC, the next 10 to 12 years of David’s childhood would have been interrupted by regular back surgeries. The single MAGEC operation replaces most of those surgeries. David may not need surgery again until he stops growing in his teens, when Emans will replace the MAGEC rods with permanent rods and a spinal fusion.

“We’re so happy that we are in the right place at the right time for David,” says Susan.